It seems a life time ago that I approached my now supervisor for advice on whether my ideas would make a valid research project and PhD. I was pregnant with baby number two, had worked as a speech and language therapist for 11 years and I was keen to try my hand at research. I needed a change but had no idea where to start. My soon to be supervisor gave me advice on my research idea (it seems it was a good idea- phew) and some tips on funding and I headed off to have a baby. During my maternity leave I spent a lot of time on the computer and the internet – I searched for funding options and stayed in touch with my potential supervisor. I explored a few dead ends, and then decided I was fairly keen to give the NIHR application a bit of a bash. This was just a few weeks before the December 2013 deadline. I realised I needed a bit more time to work out how to complete the application.
In the mean time I returned to work and started developing a project that I had applied for during a pre-maternity leave flurry, and had been funded by a Guys and St Thomas’ charitable grant. My future supervisor mentored me on this project, and as the project progressed I started the application for the NIHR doctoral research fellowship. As I explored this option further I contacted previous successful applicants, nurses and speech and language therapists, for advice on how to complete the ridiculously mammoth form, and support on the technicalities of transitioning from work in the NHS to research. I recall one of the first conversations I had with a nurse, whom I skyped with. She was working part time, having just had a baby and returned to her NIHR fellowship just recently. What a relief to find out normal people with actual lives could still do research. You didn’t have to be dedicated 24/7 – you could have children and hobbies. This sounded promising. From here I can’t recall the details of all conversations I had but I know they were all extremely valuable. There were two speech and language therapists in particular who had been awarded their fellowships the year before, who generously shared their application forms and talked through the stages of the application itself. How do I phrase this to my manager, how can I make myself an outstanding candidate? And yes it is worth it. They were inspiring and I still speak to these ladies regularly to learn from their experience.
These countless nuggets of golden wisdom accrued from generous clinicians and researchers were what enabled me to navigate the route to where I am now. It gave me the wording for the conversation with my manager (a new manager with no knowledge of speech and language therapy) and the perseverance for the long haul. And I love where I am now, 9 months in and I am delighted with this route I have taken. Yet there seem to be few other speech and language therapists on this road with me. With this in mind I endeavour to pay it forward.
Last week I attended an information session for future potential UCL PhD students and NIHR candidates. `The room of around 40 people was buzzing with electricity from the start to the finish of the meeting. It was inspiring to hear so many great research ideas from passionate clinicians. It was also a great feeling to be able to pay forward the advice that was given to me. I was able to provide tips on how to become a better candidate (volunteer for a new role, become an RCSLT advisor, publish in a practice magazine….), advice on pursing research as a career with your manager (get your PhD on your appraisal…), what to do in what order (approach a potential supervisor asap). Don’t be intimidated by the forms and paperwork.
In writing this all down it comes to my mind that applying for a PhD is not something you need to do on your own, in fact you shouldn’t. There are lots of people out there who will happily help and support you on this route. In fact, as a small discipline speech and language therapists need to help one another, support and champion one another in order to push our profession forward. And once you have your funding and are on your way pay it forward and help someone else!